An interview with Emma Webb
The champion for common sense with cockney roots who wants to sack the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Emma Webb is a writer and broadcaster. She was the founding director of the Common Sense Society in the United Kingdom, and is an on-air contributor (and sometimes presenter) on GB News, as well as a fellow at the New Culture Forum.
You are involved in quite few organisations. I’ve spotted The Common Sense Society, Save Our Statues, New Culture Forum and presenting on GB News. Have I missed any? If you could only pick one to do for the rest of your life, which would it be and why?
Over the last few years, I’ve worn a lot of hats. During lockdown - when I was working for Civitas, leading their extremism project – I took a leap of faith and decided to go freelance. It allowed me to focus on the issues that I felt were most urgent. I decided to enter the fray more fully, so I threw myself, wholesale, into commenting on TV and radio (something I had very much avoided earlier in my career – I was afraid of public speaking).
I became the deputy research director of the Free Speech Union, hosted shows for the New Culture Forum and co-founded Save Our Statues. I appeared more on TV and radio, wrote for various publications, and became involved with GBNews from its beginning, where I am still a contributor (and sometimes presenter).
The biggest, and most recent, of these projects was bringing the Common Sense Society to the UK. I became acquainted with them in 2017 and I was immediately enamoured with their appetite to build. Often, small ‘c’ conservatives are not that way inclined, precisely because we are not ideologues or natural activists. I wanted to learn from CSS – we needed something like that here! When we launched in October 2022, there was a real appetite and organic momentum growing in the UK. That energy was clear from the moment the great and the good began streaming through the doors at our first official salon – artists, comedians, playwrights, actors, musicians, politicians, civil servants, academics, novelists, entrepreneurs; drinking, laughing and having fascinating conversations.
My involvement in all these projects has been underpinned by an earnest mission to protect the things I love. Things that are precious, fragile, indispensable, and threatened. I wanted to rally as many people as I could to do the same - to build in order to preserve the things that we can’t do without, that make our lives beautiful and free.
With that protracted preamble out of the way, in answer to your question – I want continue doing this for the rest of my life, and that will inevitably take many different forms.
So, in 2024 I am taking another leap. Now that I’ve got CSSUK up and walking, I am handing over the reins to focus more on writing and broadcasting. It has been an honour to serve as CSSUK’s inaugural director, and I hope in your eyes I will remain (as Laura christened me) ‘Her Commonsenseship’.
Where has common sense gone, and why?
Common sense hasn’t gone anywhere. It is just pooled in reservoirs outside of metropolitan areas – in working class areas, like the Red Wall. It only looks like it has vanished because it has been chased out of our institutions by ideologues and their little helpers.
A whole book could be written to answer this question. I will say that I think one of the biggest contributors is our subpar educational system. It has become a super spreader of bad ideas. While many people feel paralysed and shy to make any kind of value judgement, the ‘orthodox’ have no problem pronouncing their lazy judgements like someone at a call centre reading out pre-prepared responses from a list. It isn’t difficult for sensible people to be cowed and gaslit, and that is why counter-organising in civil society is important – to bring sane people together, so they know they’re not alone.
You are often talking and writing about culture, democracy, free speech. A lot of people will recognise that feeling something has gone seriously wrong. Is there any hope for our culture?
I’ve been reading Ecclesiastes recently, and he’s right - there really is ‘nothing new under the sun’. There is a strange source of optimism in this pessimism.
If no one was willing to put up a fight, I think we could be excused for putting on our sackcloth and ashes. But over the past five years or so, we’ve seen a flourishing of resistance – organisations, and individuals, fighting on many fronts. Don’t get me wrong, we are on the back foot. We could do a lot better. The situation is dire. But historical fortunes turn on a pinhead, and you can never discount Providence.
In the meantime, if you want to preserve any culture, you have to keep living it. We have to be obstinate. It isn’t a small ask. It requires personal cultivation and a lot of legwork, education, discipline and sacrifices. But the roots of our civilisation run deep, and if you keep that inheritance alive in your daily life, your family and your work, if you live and breathe it, it isn’t impossible that the weight of it – even among a small group – could tilt the scales. Not least given the current orthodoxy has all the substance of thin air.
What is your proudest and most important achievement?
This question made me realise that I’ve never thought about it. It may seem an odd choice, but it was probably delivering my grandmother’s eulogy.
She was a fierce woman. A “hard-as-nails” cockney Queen, with the most wicked mischievous humour, a hard punch, and a soft heart. “Rach” shot down German planes during the war and recycled silk parachutes into ball gowns; she smoked more than a pack a day until her 90s, and the family myth was that she was simply “too angry to die”. She was – by any definition of the word – a character.
The reason I feel so proud of that eulogy is because I saw in my father’s expression that I had captured his love and pride in her, too. No professional achievement could ever make me feel more proud.
What is the aspect of your work that people most disagree with and why?
Christianity. Our society is much more pagan than we realise. It is too much to go into here, but the foundation of my worldview may seem alien to many people, even if their heritage is Christian, and they live in a country structured by Christianity. I was once the same – many people may not even be sensitive to the contrast, because the usurpation of Christianity has been so comprehensive.
Foundational ideas that have profound implications – like the imperfectability of human beings and society, that undermines utopian fantasies. These ideas jar with mainstream British culture. Our culture is saturated with non-Christian categories of thought; we are living in the ruins of the worldview that was the lifeblood of our civilisation, and it is as alien to us as the grand ruins of Roman Britain were to our ancestors. The most ‘disagreeable’ aspects of my work boil down to that foundational difference.
That said, I think this is changing. The truth of Christianity stands in stark relief against a backdrop of the radical untruth of current orthodoxies. I am seeing more people becoming familiarised with, and re-habituated to, their Christian roots.
Describe your biggest epiphany and how it shaped you?
Reading Nietzsche when I was a teenager.
It may be a surprise, but it isn’t an exaggeration to say Nietzsche probably changed the course of my life – or at the very least expedited things. My copy of Beyond Good and Evil from that time is marked with all sorts of expletives. It shattered all the categories of thought that I had received from what my dad would call a “cannon fodder” education. It was, perhaps ironically, my Road to Damascus moment; it was a massive thump to the head. I didn’t, and don’t, align with Nietzsche. However, it did open the door to a whole world of thought for me. So, in an odd, roundabout way, Nietzsche led me to conservatism… and eventually, to Christianity. Oops!
If you were an absolute monarch for a day, what law would you introduce?
I am not sure I am cut out to be an absolute monarch, Laura, but if I must, your attempt to limit me to one law is insolent.
I would begin by dramatically sacking the Archbishop of Canterbury, and replacing him with my parish priest. Then I would restore a constitutional monarchy properly in line with England’s ancient constitution á la Burke.
What is the most interesting thing you have learned in the last year?
How important it is to learn to translate theoretical knowledge into practical wisdom, and practice.
It isn’t something I am naturally good at, but I’ve realised how absolutely necessary it is.
Check in with me next January to see how it went.
What is next for you?
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